This week, an exploration of how Serapian plans to maintain its ultra-quiet-luxury status amid global expansion. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
Brands that have become synonymous with “quiet luxury” have become louder and more mainstream. Now, a lesser-known brand fitting the bill aims to attract global shoppers who prefer to keep it discreet.
In the last couple of years, the quiet luxury trend has shed light on the shopping habits of high-net-worth consumers — namely, their prioritization of quality, history and rarity, and their desire to be part of an exclusive club. But for nearly 100 years, primarily in Milan, Richemont-owned leather goods brand Serapian has been catering to the demo. Now, to answer demand from its shopper base and seize the moment, the company is expanding to the states and beyond.
“This is our moment,” said Giovanni Nodari-Serapian, a third-generation founding family member and head of Serapnia’s bespoke services. “The idea [of quiet luxury] has always been at the core of our business; we’ve been a well-kept secret of Milan because we’ve sold to the discreet client.”
Now, to get in front of the regions’ sophisticated consumers, Serapian is entering the U.S. and Japan through physical retail. “Clients in these markets understand that, just because something doesn’t have a logo or isn’t well-known, it doesn’t mean it’s not luxurious. In fact, the opposite is true.”
On Wednesday, Serapian opened a six-month pop-up shop on NYC’s Madison Avenue, located on the Upper East Side. Nodari-Serapian said the location was chosen because it’s where New Yorkers shop, as well as some tourists. Plus, the street is more quiet and targeted to the luxury shopper than, say, Fifth Avenue. The same is true of Serapian’s Milan flagship location of Via della Spiga, selected instead of the bustling Via Monte Napoleone.
According to Nodari-Serapian, Serapian has a “huge crowd of fans” in New York who largely shop the brand’s e-commerce site. Many originally discovered the brand at now-defunct Barneys, where it did a big business. In the U.S., Serapian also sells through department stores including Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, specialty stores like Boyds Philadelphia, and online fashion retailers including Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter.
Unlike other luxury brands seeking growth in new sales channels and markets, Serapian’s likelihood of experiencing dilution is arguably low. For one, it employs just four artisans who are skilled in creating the proprietary “Mosaico” weave featured across its products. Their process, which takes three years to learn, takes four hours to complete per handbag, for example. From start to finish, also due to an included painting and drying process, one bag takes at least one week to produce. According to Nodari-Serapian, securing skilled artisans has become more difficult over the last 20 years as families with generations of leather goods workers have begun sending their sons to college.
What’s more, Serapian has a growing bespoke service allowing any shopper access to a style nobody else has — for a price. Though still a small percentage of the business, according to Nodari-Serapian, the service has driven triple-digit annual revenue growth since launching in sync with the brand, in 1928. There are two bespoke offerings, with the first allowing shoppers to customize a current Serapian style with one of 43 shades of Nappa leather. This option starts at $5,000. Another, dubbed Bespoke Assoluto, lets customers create a sketch of a bag, or most anything, and work with Serapian designers and artisans to make it from scratch. Clients can also customize one of the 9,000 archival bag styles that were designed by Serapian founder Stefano Serapian. Requests the brand has fulfilled include outfitting the interior of a 1930s Lancia Lambda and creating a large trunk to hold a sizable jewelry collection. Both projects took the company two years to complete.
“The creativity of the client is the limit,” Nodari-Serapian said, though he noted that “every project needs to be a Serapian creation,” reflective of the brand’s DNA.
The brand’s bespoke services are being offered in the 1,400-square-foot Madison Avenue boutique. For clients buying into Bespoke Assoluto, Nodari-Serapian and a team will travel from Milan to NYC to walk them through the design and product creation processes. Other objectives of the store include communicating the Serapian story, as “those who know it typically fall in love with the brand.” Nodari-Serapian said.
As for Japan, Serapian currently has a shop-in-shop at the Tokyo department store Ginza Six. And it plans to open a flagship store in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district in spring 2024.
Also in 2024, the brand will continue its pop-up tour, of sorts, with a second stop in the U.S. — a pop-up in Paris also currently in swing.
Rather than relying on traditional marketing tactics, along with building out attractive shops, Serapian is gaining the attention of potential customers in new markets by hosting intimate events. They’re often run in partnership with companies with overlapping client bases, like Sant Ambroeus restaurant and Richemont Group sister brands.
Collaborations are another marketing tool Serapian is leveraging, though with restraint. In the past, it’s teamed on collections with Italian architect Vico Magistretti and Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico. It plans to keep future partnerships in the design and art worlds, with the next one launching soon.
In 2017, Serapian was acquired by Richemont for an undisclosed sum. But it’s largely remained a family-run business. The relationship is “unique in the industry,” but crucial to maintaining originality and realness, Nodari-Serapian said. Everything is still produced at the brand’s Milan Villa Mozart headquarters, and the furthest supplier is just 200 kilometers away. Richemont has been most beneficial to the company in facilitating shared operational resources across the group’s brands, which has allowed Serapian to concentrate on customer service and creativity, Nodari-Serapian said.
“The client who shops at Serapian wants to be part of a club, a specific crowd,” he said. “It’s the client who loves it when someone comes up to them and says, ‘This is a beautiful bag. Where did you buy it? I’ve never heard of that brand. Tell me more about it.’
He added, “We don’t want to be a mainstream maison. The day we become a mainstream maison is the day we lose our spirit.”
For fiscal 2023, Richemont reported that its “Other” business area, which encompasses fashion and accessories brands including Chloé, Alaïa and Serapian, among others, saw 19% sales growth. In the fiscal first quarter of 2024, ending June 30, the area’s revenue increased by 6%. Richemont does not break out earnings by brand, and Serapian declined to provide revenue figures.
“Luxury growth is slowing, but we’re lucky because we’ve been kept a secret. So we’re still original, we’re still unique, and we’re still growing — by quite a lot,” Nodari-Serapian said, adding, “This is an explosion moment.”
Four years after buying Serapian, Richemont scooped up another luxury leather goods company, Delvaux. The brand, birthed in Brussels in 1829, is considered the oldest leather goods company in the world. And, reportedly, Richemont has been leveraging Serapian to develop leather goods expertise across the group. The leather goods category is a big revenue driver for luxury companies, including LVMH. Earlier this year, word spread that LVMH was planning to acquire Richemont, though Richemont chairman Johann Rupert shot down the rumor in May.
“Our culture is obsessed with finding objects of extreme expense and extreme craft,” Ian Schatzberg, co-founder of branding agency General Idea, said in a Glossy focus group in April. “And there’s an emergence of niche luxury brands that could catch on as an antidote to the big luxury houses.”
“[For consumers] it’s partly about self-expression, but it’s also about community — some of these rising luxury brands have very strong communities,” said Sarah Willersdorf, head of luxury at Boston Consulting Group. “And at the same time, you’re also showing that you’re in the know.”